Before the age of Google, news publications generated most of their revenue through television, newspapers, and ad campaigns. Then the internet came along. Google became our primary source of information and allowed anybody with enough SEO know-how to produce and publish news online.
Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code seeks to put power back in the hands of the publishers. Instead of relying on revenue generated purely from views and on-page advertisements, the Bargaining Code will force big tech companies like Google and Facebook to pay publishers for their content.
Furthermore, there are clauses throughout the bill that would grant these major news publications access to the inner-workings of Google’s algorithms. They will also gain access to the same user data Google and Facebook have.
What Australia Has Done With Facebook and Google
Negotiations in regards to the Media Bargaining Code date back to the spring of 2020. Google and Facebook have fought against the proposed bill from the very beginning. The tech giants, however, took two different approaches to combat the matter.
Facebook, in recent weeks, barred all Australian news stories from being published on their platform. The move led to public disdain as vital government-issued health information regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic was blocked. After further negotiations, Facebook has since lifted this ban.
Google, on the other hand, understood their need for the Australian market. They threatened to pull their search functions altogether, leaving Australia without the world-leading search engine. Their threat was not taken lightly, and Google was able to strike a deal with the Murdock family-owned News Corp. to circumvent and ultimately amend parts of the proposed bill.
Several Countries Following Australia’s Lead
Several other countries could soon follow in Australia’s footsteps. Leading the charge is Canada as they prepare to put forth a bill in mid-2021. While on the heels of the Media Bargaining Code, this proposed legislation seeks to amend the Canadian Newspaper industry’s dire state. A report released by News Media Canada, a conglomerate of multiple Canadian news publications, highlights the rapid decline of the Canadian Newspaper Industry between 2014 and 2019. In those years, newspaper revenues declined 43 percent, while Facebook and Google posted astronomical profits.
Governments combating big tech is not anything new. In 2014, Spain passed a law that would require Google News to pay for links and excerpts posted by Spanish publishers. Google swiftly cut ties with Spain by removing Spanish publishers from Google News and closing the platform in Spain.
Combating big tech is one of the few bipartisan issues in the U.S. that both sides of the political aisle have agreed on. Spearheaded by Rhode Island Representative David Cicilline (D), House Democrats and Republicans agree that big tech has manifested an “escalating crisis” regarding the sharing of personal data and deprivation of much-needed ad revenue from American news publications. It would appear that American politicians are keeping a watchful eye on Australia and the News Media Bargaining Code.
How It’s Affecting Your Online Privacy
The internet has been a free-for-all since its indoctrination into our way of life. Anybody with knowledge of basic SEO strategies can produce and publish high-traffic content online. The News Media Bargaining Code has been met with pushback outside of big tech.
Smaller publications believe massive media conglomerates, like Australia’s News Corp., will have an unfair advantage. The bill not only forces big tech to pay for news, but it also forces them to disclose changes in their algorithms two weeks before the change. They will also gain access to the same user data Facebook and Google use to target their users with ads and related stories.
In the online market, the only way these publications are making money (outside of the News Media Bargaining Code) is through ad revenue, and the only way to make money on ad revenue is to drive traffic to their websites. This has led to, what some believe, the unethical practice of posting “click-bait” headlines.
As far as ownership of the content is concerned, the publications will still own the rights to the news stories they produce. Google and Facebook will be effectively “leasing” these stories to host them on their platforms.
The World Waits and Watches
The free-for-all nature of the internet has promoted unethical practices in “click-bait” media for years now. News publications still need to generate a profit to operate. As we have seen in Canada, the rapid decline of physical newspaper sales and cable news viewership has forced publications to rely on ad revenue to generate profits.
As a result, we have seen sensationalized versions of the news produced, published, and shared across various social media platforms, specifically Facebook and Youtube (a Google subsidiary). These publications utilize SEO strategies such as E-A-T (expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness) to rank higher in Google’s search results.
Also, some opponents of “The News Media Bargaining Accord” believe that it may lead to backdoor deals that give major publications a competitive edge over smaller companies. While they will not have to rely on generating traffic through click-bait headlines, they can quickly become cyberbullies in the online news media market.
These media conglomerates will push the narratives they desire as Google will be forced to disclose their ranking algorithms to them. They will have an easier time targeting their specific audiences with the topics they desire, consciously or subconsciously.
Cyberbullying by the hands of the news media has led to countless examples of stigmatization. Such reports can have irreversible effects on the target of bad press as they may not be able to get their side of the story anywhere near the top of Google’s rankings. They will not have the same access to algorithmic information as their accusers.
The allocation of funds required to pay these news organizations the compensation they desire will detract from what Google, specifically YouTube, can pay its content creators. These YouTubers have amassed huge followings, some bigger than mainstream media publications, and could be phased out by lack of funding.
While many of these YouTubers are not recognized as official news publications, many of their subscribers look to them for unbiased news in a world of click-bait headlines and unethical journalism. Will the News Media Bargaining Code re-right the faltering ship? The world will have to keep a watchful eye on the future of Australian news publications.